COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is set to begin officially next week.
For the past three months, Ohio native and trade representative under Ronald Regan, Robert Lighthizer has been preparing to meet with officials from Mexico and Canada.
In July, the Trump administration released a list of objectives it had for this renegotiation.
United States Senator for Ohio Sherrod Brown reached out to President Trump’s transition team days after he was elected, to express a desire to work with the administration on this issue and ask that focus be placed on four items.
At the time, he received an enthusiastic response from the President but only some of the items he outlined made it into the administration’s objectives.
In the meantime, U.S. Senator Rob Portman, a former trade representative who was able to secure deals with 30 countries, also expressed the benefits and importance of NAFTA’s renegotiation.
After more than 20 years, the agreement could use some updating, especially in terms of e-commerce, which was not something the original deal planned for.
Both senators agree that stepping away from the agreement, as the President once claimed he was open to doing, would be disastrous for Ohio.
“Nobody’s opposed NAFTA more than I have in the senate, but I also know that you can’t just tear up the agreement and walk away,” said Brown.
“The best thing for all three countries is to lower barriers to trade so that we can create more jobs in Ohio that are related to exports,” said Portman.
The top two countries for Ohio exports are Canada and Mexico, in that order.
The senators say it is vital for the renegotiations to go well and at the same time protect the agriculture compromises already in place.
However, President Trump’s reputation for his use of social media has Senator Brown concerned.
“He’s got to do real negotiations here, not tweeting every morning and making statements and blaming others,” said Brown. “It’s got to be a serious negotiation.”
Both senators trust Lighthizer can get the job done, the question will be, will Trump let him?
“One of the reasons I voted against NAFTA, one of my first votes in Congress, was it was too much of a shift of power to corporations,” said Brown. “I know who the president surrounds himself in the Whitehouse, and it looks a bit like a Goldman Sacs executive retreat in the president’s cabinet room.”
On the campaign trail, President Trump said: “NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country.”
That claim is disputed, especially given the fact that agriculture in Ohio has boomed as a result.
The loss of automotive parts manufacturing jobs when the Columbus Delphi plant closed has been blamed on outsourcing, which is in turn blamed on NAFTA.
Even with a renegotiation of the trade agreement, those jobs aren’t coming back, according to Brown. Senator Portman did not go so far as to say he agreed with that but made it clear that the number of manufacturing jobs that would return would not rival what we once had.
The current renegotiation hopes to raise worker pay, safety and quality of life in Mexico by granting them collective bargaining rights; something that has been under attack through Right to Work legislation in states across the nation with GOP parties leading the way.
However the premise that if you raise the cost of doing business in Mexico, the U.S. parts makers will simply bring their business back home; is flawed.
China, India, and several African countries are all prime targets for such manufacturing jobs if things get too costly elsewhere.
That’s why Portman says it will take more than just a renegotiation of NAFTA to get American companies to return to the U.S. to make their goods. He says, tax and healthcare reform both play a significant role, alongside the trade agreement.
Most people have a preconceived notion of NAFTA, but few realize that negotiations for the deal began under President George H. W. Bush with President Clinton finalizing the deal and adding two side agreements, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).
Most people also do not know much about chapters 11 and 19, or how disputes over the trade agreement are handled.
Whether it is a good deal or not, ultimately, NAFTA is vital to the future of Ohio and its workers.
“I’m hopeful that [the negotiators] can come to a good conclusion because we need those markets,” said Portman.